Word of the Day – “strecken”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: July 25, 2023

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German word of the Day. This time with a look at the meaning of

streckn

Oh… sorry… I had something stuck in my throat.
So yeah, today we’ll look at

strecken

 

Wow, they almost sound the same. How funny.
Seriously though, I’m sure many of you have come across strecken in one form or another, but chances are also that you never really spent much time looking into the family.
And that’s exactly what we’ll do today, because there are some nice words to be found. And we’ll also look at the difference between strecken and dehnen, which … uh… you probably never wondered about. But hey, it’s a thing now :)
So… let’s jump in.

Strecken is the German cousin of to stretch and the origin of them is the farcically ancient Indo-European root *(s)tere-.
That’s also the origin of words like stark, string, strong and strength the core idea of it was something along the lines of:

tight, stiff,  narrow

Just think of a big rubber band that you extend… that gets more narrow, but it also gets stiffer, more rigid. And it gets longer.

Some words of the family, like the German stark and its translation strong, focused on the stiffness and eventually shifted toward the idea of strength.
Other words, like string, focused more about the “narrowness”.
And strecken and stretch… well those are kind of about the “act” of extending. Like, just think of doing some stretching. You “extend” your muscles, they get more string-like while you do that and they get also more stuff.

However, there’s a small but important difference between strecken and to stretch, and strecken is NOT the best word for sport stretching. Because that is dehnen.

The difference between “dehnen” and “strecken”

Both dehnen and strecken can be a translation for to stretch. But for the stretching that we do after sports or when we’re doing yoga, dehnen is the more common and better choice.

  • Ich dehne mich jeden morgen.
  • I do stretching every morning.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • 11 Gründe, warum man sich regelmäßig dehnen sollte.
  • 11 reasons why you should stretch regularly.
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  • Ich habe meine Waden nach dem Joggen nicht gedehnt.
  • I didn’t stretch my calves after running.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Wenn ihr keine Dehnung in den Waden spürt, dann macht ihr die Übung falsch.
  • If you don’t feel a stretch in the calves, you’re doing the exercise wrong.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Using strecken in these is not really wrong. But it makes it sound more like a quick one-off motion where you just “extend” your body. Like, what we do when we wake up during a mic-off, no camera zoom meeting

  • Thomas wacht auf, gähnt, streckt sich und checkt den Chat.
  • Thomas wakes up, yawns, stretches his limbs and checks the chat.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

If your stretching is focused on putting the muscles and tendons under tension, then dehnen is the better word. Which makes sense, because dehnen and tension and tendons are related. That’s actually quite a crazy family with words like thin, tent, tense, tennis, pretend, contain and many more. But we can look at it another time.

So yeah… dehnen is about the idea of tension…. “dehn-sion” if you will :).
Strecken on the other hand is more about the theme of extending, making longer.

The actual meaning of strecken

Now you might be like:
“Wait, Emanuel, you said strecken comes from a family that was about stiff, tight and is related to strong…. how is it now about extending all of a sudden?”
Which is a great question!
But just think of us when we try to reach something on the highest shelf in our kitchen – we’re stretching the entire body, using all the muscles, making it stiff – all to get more reach. To make ourselves longer. To stretch ourselves out.
And that’s what strecken is used for.
So it IS a translation for to stretch but with the focus on making longer, not adding tension.

  • Ich strecke mich nach der Keksdose, aber ich komme nicht ran.
  • I’m stretching to reach the cookie jar, but I can’t reach it.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Thomas streckt seine Arme in die Höhe.
  • Thomas puts/reaches his arms up high.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • “Ich habe wirklich geschlafwandelt?!?!”
    “Jaaa… du hast die Augen aufgemacht, dich gestreckt und bist in die Küche gegangen, und hast angefangen, Crème Brulée zu machen.”
    “Ich weiß nicht mal, was das ist…”
  • “I really sleepwalked?!?!?!”
    “Yeahh… you opened your eyes, stretched, and went to the kitchen and you started making crème brulée.”
    “I don’t even know what that is…. “
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And please note that in all three examples, strecken has an object with it; either a reflexive pronoun in Accusative (like mich or dich or sich), or the arms in the second example. That’s another important difference between strecken and to stretchstrecken MUST have a direct object.

  • Ich strecke!   NOPE

This is not a complete sentence and everyone would be like “What bro? WHAT are you stretching?”.
And usually, it’ll be yourself or a body part. Though there are a few figurative uses here and there, too.
Like this one where the bartender essentially makes the vodka “longer”.

  • Der Barmann streckt den Vodka mit Wasser.
  • The bartender dilutes/cuts the vodka with water.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Overall, though, the verb strecken itself is not all that common.
It’s the related words that really matter here.

Die Strecke and other related words

And first up, we have the noun die Strecke, which has entirely focused on the idea of extending.
Because Strecke is pretty much the path, “the extent” between two points. And the main context you’ll see it in is travelling.
Unless you’re really into geometry. Then you’ll see it there, too. I don’t like geometry, by the way.
Like… the Pythagorean theorem for instance… it’s so restrictive. And everybody adheres to it, like we’re all some dumb NPCs or something. Imagine what the world would look like if we allowed for triangles where the sum of the.. uh… the squares of the . uhm… so you add the… uh… … you know what I mean.
I think geometry should be cancelled. Smash like if you agree.
But anyway, let’s get to the examples.

  • Eine Gerade zwischen zwei Punkten heißt Strecke.
  • A straight line between two points is called line segment.
    (geometry terminology)
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  • Die Strecke mit dem Zug von Oslo nach Bergen ist sehr schön.
  • The route/ride/way by train from Oslo to Bergen is very beautiful.
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  • Einen Teil der Strecke sind wir per Anhalter gefahren.
  • Part of the distance/journey we did by hitchhiking.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

It’s a bit hard to pin down Strecke to ONE precise translation. So try to think of it as more of a vague blur. The way you think of “last night” after a really intense party. If you can do that, and not try to say “Strecke is THIS ONE THING“, then you’ll have no problem understanding even the more figurative uses.

  • In Berlin gibt es die sogenannte Kurzstrecke. Damit kann man 3 Stationen U-Bahn oder 6 Stationen Bus oder Tram fahren, ohne umzusteigen.
  • In Berlin, there’s the so called “short distance [ticket]“. With it, you can go 3 stops on the metro or 6 stops on bus or tram without switching.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Der Film war insgesamt gut, aber streckenweise ein bisschen langweilig.
  • The movie was good overall, but a bit boring at times.
    (Lit.: “stretches were a bit boring”)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Wenn das Team unter solchem Zeitstress ist, bleibt Qualität auf der Strecke.
  • If the team is under such time pressure, quality gets left behind.
    (Lit.: “stays on the route”, like “falls by the wayside, only that it falls on the way here)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Cool.

So that’s the noun die Strecke. And of course there’s only one thing that’s missing, if we’re talking about a German verb … its prefix versions :).

Prefix Verbs with “strecken”

And the most useful one of them is most probably ausstrecken. Which is very similar to (sich) strecken, and it also always needs a direct object that is stretched. But ausstrecken has an (even) clearer focus on “making long” and also has a keeping it stretched out.

  • Nach dem langen Flug will ich unbedingt meine Beine ausstrecken.
  • After the long flight I really want to extend my legs.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Using just strecken here would sound like doing a quick one minute stretch to get the juices flowing, but with ausstrecken it means making them really long and keeping them that way.

  • Die Obdachlose streckt die Hand aus.
  • The homeless person reaches out (with) her hand.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • “Ahhh… es gibt nichts besseres als sich nach getaner Arbeit auf der Couch auszustrecken und ein Bier zu genießen.”
    “Es ist Montag Mittag,  Thomas! Wir hatten bisher nur das wöchentliche Kickoff-Meeting.”
  • “Ahhh…. there’s nothing better than lying /stretching out on the couch and enjoying a beer after work has been finished.”
    “It’s Monday noon, Thomas! We only had the weekly kickoff-meeting so far.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And where there’s a verb with aus, there most likely also is one with raus. And rausstrecken is like most r-versions very literal and basically carries the idea of stretching/reaching out from somewhere. Sounds more complicated than it is – the examples are really self explanatory, I think.

  • Der Specht streckt seinen Kopf aus seiner Baumhöhle raus.
  • The woodpecker sticks out its head from its tree hole.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Mama, das Lama hat mir die Zunge rausgestreckt.
  • Mom, the llama stuck its tongue out at me.
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All right.
Next up, we have erstrecken. Or here we should say sich erstrecken über because this one actually is a real reflexive verb that ONLY works reflexively AND it always goes with über.
The translation is once again to stretch, but sich erstrecken über is ONLY about the sense of something “covering” a vast area. Mainly for actual land, but you may also see it for time, sometimes

  • Der Zauberwald erstreckt sich über hunderte Kilometer.
  • The magical forest stretches over hundreds of kilometers.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Die Handlung erstreckt sich über drei Generationen.
  • The plot spans/stretches over three generations.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

These are the only types of phrasings the verb is used for, pretty much. So this is not one to get creative with and it’s definitely enough to have it in the passive vocabulary.
And the same goes for vollstrecken which is a legal term for the act of actually enforcing or carrying out a court sentence. Like…. someone might be sentenced to a year in jail, but when police never comes to pick them up at their mansion, then the sentence is not vollstreckt.

  • Der Politiker wurde verurteilt, aber das Urteil wurde nie vollstreckt.
  • The politician was sentenced, but the sentence was never enforced/carried out.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

It’s kind of hard to see how this meaning ties in with the core theme we’ve learned for strecken, but it actually makes perfect sense of you think of vollstrecken as “going all the way”. Like… getting the sentence was part of the journey but that path is not “completed” yet.
Anyway, just like sich erstrecken, this is not really a word you’ll need to use actively so put in on the big, stinky pile of passive vocabulary.
And that’s also where the last verb for today is, at least in my own vocabulary – vorstrecken.
One meaning is the literal idea of stretching/reaching out forward – like the hand or the chin.
And its other meaning is “advancing” in the sense of … money. Like, paying something for someone now, and they’ll pay back later. Imagine you and some friends want to rent a house for a weekend, and one friend has no money right now, but you pay for them.
So it’s basically like to lend, just a bit more specific.

  • Wenn du das Geld nicht hast, kann ich dir das erstmal vorstrecken.
  • If you don’t have the money, I can advance that on loan.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And as I said… me personally, I never use this. I prefer auslegen or borgen. But it’s also not weird, or outdated, so if you like it then use it. I think people will actually be impressed by your vocabulary.

Anyway, that’s pretty much it for today.
This was our look at strecken and its family and the difference to dehnen.
If you want to check how much you remember, just take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
And of course, if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it, have a great week and I’ll see you in the next one.
Tschaui!

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